Hopelessly Futile…Refreshingly Brutal- An Arkham Horror The Card Game Review

When I first started playing the new breed of board games in 2012, I read about a little game called Arkham Horror.  Everything I heard about it was fascinating but I couldn’t get past the 3-5 hour playtime.  There  is no justifying buying a game when I know it would never get played.  Yeah it could be solo’d but my wife would eat my soul if I left that game out for extended amounts of time (in a nice way…I love my wife!) .  Thank goodness Arkham Horror the Card Game came out to satiate my hunger while maintaining my relationship with my wife.

cpbsze10

“Yes this goes just perfectly with the decor.”

First off, this post isn’t going to go  into specifics of how to play the game.  Rather I will focus on my scattered thoughts.

Several things about this game intrigued me.  The idea of playing through a campaign where choices have a huge impact felt very novel to me in a board/card game.  As a video game, this brings to mind an RPG which is sweet nectar to my gaming soul.  Character classes man!  With special abilities and character traits and weaknesses and backstories!  How the hell would I not want this game, mechanics be damned? The dark Lovecraftian theme is the icing on the cake.

WHAT I LIKE ( Arkham Not”Horror”ble)

Well no need to damn the mechanics…I love them.  Granted my feelings are based more on the game’s potential than the specifics of the base set as I detail below, but that doesn’t leave me any less excited for the expansions.

 The deck building is pretty non-existent with one core set (and I may love this game but I will not buy two core sets), but the interactions amongst the cards is phenomenal.  I’ve had moments where I’ve chained cards in combination with weapons and taken my lowly 1-strength Survivor character and decimated a boss character with a crippling 4-damage backstab.  (I’ve also had all or nothing moments where my character powered up and viciously swung a baseball bat to win the game…and unintentionally knocked my partner unconscious, giving him physical trauma for the next mission).  And the combos really bear out in the theme as they allow me to picture the situations like I’m reading a book.

The theme is aided by the game working against you.  Most coop games have a mechanism for the difficulty increasing as the game is played.  This game takes that and adds randomness and chaos to it.  You have your encounter deck which might utterly screw you over for an entire game or may just be a nuisance.  It feels so thematically fulfilling to lose a mission horribly when my battle hardened detective is hindered all game because he starts hearing voices and can’t get rid of them due to his low sanity.  Likewise, it feels satisfying drawing a bunch of slow monsters and tripping them up with my plucky survivor girl and breezing around town while my partner lumbers in after me for the kill.  Adding to the encounter deck are the agenda and act cards.  Basically, as doom approaches (every turn a doom token is placed on the agenda) or an act is resolved (basically your storyline and objectives for the mission), the game will throw surprises at you, good or bad.  At least the encounter deck feels like it can be prepared for.  The agenda deck has much larger and unexpected surprises.  I LOVE that.  It makes the tension incredible during every move and action.

One thing I was stunned about is the replay-ability.  I assumed because the scenarios follow a set pattern, I might not want to replay them.  BAHAHAHAHAH!  I’ve played the first mission four times with three different people and six times by myself (one character or two characters) and I am not bored yet.  This is because each character plays so differently and the synergy between certain characters is awesome to feel out.  Plus, each character class has their own unique items, special powers, and weaknesses that keep things fresh.  They all play differently.  I can play as a bruising brawling detective with a dark past who destroys monsters left and right, a mousy librarian type researcher with a dark past who uses her wits to find clues quickly, or a lonesome orphan with a DARK PAST who uses not book smarts, but street smarts to…I guess evade monsters instead of fighting them?  There are more characters, all of whom are marked by the darkness of their pasts.  Please don’t mistake my joking here for mocking the game.  The character classes are fantastic.

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 Those haunted, forlorn faces scream dark past.

Finnicky game mechanics may turn some off but I love action-reactions and if-then mechanics in my games.  I am a big fan of games where there are a huge amount of conditions and this game has that.  For example, if you swing and miss at most enemies, you just miss.  But some have the “retaliate” keyword which means they will damage you if you miss.  Other enemies may hunt down the weakest player while some characters can be negotiated with rather than fought.  Some weapons run out of ammo, others are great at all times, and some break depending on the token you draw.  Fantastic stuff!  (Speaking of the token, the concept of a chaos bag instead of dice is great.  Really adds to the tension.)

Finally the campaign structure introduced here has me salivating for  more though it is a bit underwhelming in the base set.  You may level up your characters in between missions and also can incur permanent damage due to being knocked out or going crazy in the prior missions.  These effects can also be caused by your choices or performance during the missions and its awesome seeing repercussions mounting as you go through.

WHAT I DON’T LIKE ( Or Arkham “Horror”ble)

This game has such immense potential with great mechanics but the base set feels haphazardly thrown together at times.  I love difficulty in my games and the first two missions are mechanically interesting and enjoyable.  They feel fair on the normal difficulty while still being very difficult to get to the best resolution.  The third mission is not fun.  It is laid out so that you run into all of the worst, artificial difficulty mechanics known to man.  Sigggghhhh.  It’s like the developers decided to throw every lazy trick they know of without any nuance.  I don’t mind grinding through and losing at the end but this mission usually ends for me about ten minutes in.

This mission is hindered also by the lack of cards in the base set.  Yeah you can buy multiple sets and once the expansion packs come out, there will be more variety but with just one core, there are a lot of useless cards in your deck, particularly when dealing with that third scenario.

Also, a three mission campaign is a tease.  There is no buildup or mystery to the story-line.  The game is thematically wonderful but it feels like this campaign is missing two or three acts to actually make sense or be dramatically satisfying.  One minor gripe I have is that some of the cards in the encounter deck seem to be put in for the “Rule of Cool” and not because they make sense in the scenario.  Hello Mr. Nightgaunt!

Also why the hell would FF games not provide a bag for the central mechanic of the game?  You do a skill check for everything but you need to provide your own means for doing said skill check.  Idiotic.

Version 2

Having the player figure out how to randomize the central mechanic to the game is NOT a good way to increase game difficulty.

WILL I PLAY AGAIN? (“ArCan I Play Again” Horror)

Absolutely.  My gripes are legitimate but I bought this game for the long run with the expansions, deluxe sets and Mythos packs.  What I’ve played here tells me I love what this game does for the most part and I can’t wait to play the 8 mission campaign of the Dunwich Legacy.  Sure one scenario is weak but this core set was all about selling me on the concept.  Seeing as I find myself thinking through each game post-mortem, this is a complete winner.

Rating:

Mechanics and Gameplay:   Love it with one or two minor complaints.  (31/35).

Fun-factor:  Damn third scenario sucks and brings the core game down.  Other than that, pretty damn close to perfection. (32/40)

Theme:  Good but some of the encounter cards feel thrown in without thought to how they make sense with the storyline.  Nightgaunts come to mind.  (8/10)

Potential/Replayability:  Good lord, GIVE ME MORE NOW!  (15/15)

Overall:  86/100

 

 

 

 

 

 

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